UT student newspaper reporter fired for fabricating quotes

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An internal investigation revealed Sara Johnson’s fabricated quotes in The Daily Texan on multiple occasions.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The University of Texas at Austin’s student-run newspaper has fired a senior reporter after she was found to have fabricated quotes in her articles, according to a message from the paper’s managing editor.

The Daily Texan reporter Sara Johnson’s work came into question after a City of Austin spokesperson contacted them with concerns about an article. The article had quotes from two city staffers who said they gave no interview for that story.

Other staff confirmed Johnson had fabricated quotes in two of her articles, which have been removed from the The Daily Texan website. Those articles, both published in November, were:

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“The Daily Texan staff is devastated by these revelations,” the Journalism School Director Kathleen McElroy said in a letter to students. “At the School of Journalism, our heart breaks for everyone involved in this situation.”

The Daily Texan said staff would work to verify all quotes in Johnson’s other articles.

“Fabricating quotes — or any information in an article — goes against everything we stand for as journalists and as Texan staff members. From staffers’ very first day on staff, reporting expectations are consistently reiterated. Our reporters are continually reminded that they are responsible for doing their due diligence in ensuring their reporting is fair and truthful, and that this isn’t a job to be taken lightly.

We are deeply disappointed that this situation occurred, but remain committed to our mission of seeking the truth, being transparent in our reporting, and publishing stories that are objective and factual.

We will let our readers know the results of the verification process once it is complete.”

Catherine Marfin, Daily Texan Managing Editor wrote in a letter to readers on Nov. 21

The letter sent on behalf of McElroy said it was unknown if the reporter would face consequences from the university. The letter continued and said in part, “We want you journalism majors to know that we understand this is a difficult field for many reasons, including deadline pressures and getting sources to go on the record. Fabrication and plagiarism are never the answer. The reason those who have been caught in journalistic misconduct make news is because there are so few compared to the volume of news and because we tell our audiences when our journalistic principles are violated.”

Read the full letter sent to students below:

The Daily Texan has announced that articles written by one staff reporter included fabricated quotations. The stories have been removed from The Texan website, and the staff will now try to verify other stories written by the reporter, who has been fired. We don’t know if this reporter will face other consequences from the university.

The Daily Texan staff is devastated by these revelations. I personally know how they feel: I was the weekend editor when Jayson Blair was found to have fabricated and plagiarized stories in The New York Times.  We all think: what could we have done differently? Should we have known? Journalism’s theology is truth; for daily publications like The Daily Texan and The Times, the relationship between editors and reporters relies on trust. Though the term “fake news” is now part of everyone’s casual vocabulary, journalists of all rank and media take very seriously their devotion to tell compelling stories that are truthful and fully dimensional.

At the School of Journalism, our heart breaks for everyone involved in this situation. We want you journalism majors to know that we understand this is a difficult field for many reasons, including deadline pressures and getting sources to go on the record.  Fabrication and plagiarism are never the answer. The reason those who have been caught in journalistic misconduct make news is because there are so few compared to the volume of news and because we tell our audiences when our journalistic principles are violated.

Applaud the Daily Texan staff for doing the right thing by letting us readers know immediately what had happened; give yourself a pat on the back for making that extra phone call. When you are struggling or overwhelmed, please talk to your bosses, whether they are students at The Daily Texan, TSTV, KVRX or Orange Magazine, or your professors whose deadlines add to your anxiety.

You are here to learn how to navigate not just journalism but life. Let us help you on that journey.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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